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BioSciCon on Mission to Help India with Oral Cancer Prevention

During his annual trips to visit his father’s grave in a cemetery in the former Yugoslavia, Dr. Nenad Markovic would walk into the cemetery’s candle shop and talk to the same saleswoman. Markovic, then a young medical student, noticed something on the saleswoman’s lip that didn’t look normal. He suggested she get it checked out.

That first year, she said no. That second year, she said no. That third year, she wasn’t there.

She had died from oral cancer – and she might not have if her cancer had been detected and treated early.

That incident stuck with Nenad Markovic during his long career as a cancer researcher. He and his wife, Olivera, are propelled by a desire to help patients and doctors detect cancer early. They have devoted the past decades of their lives to developing technology to detect cervical cancer at its early stages. Now they are developing technology to do the same with oral cancer.

“There is a need for early detection,” Dr. Olivera Markovic said. “Early detection is the most important approach to cancer. “

Added Dr. Nenad Markovic: “Cancer can be fought successfully. And much better, cancer can be prevented.”

The Markovics are the founders of BioSciCon,located on the Johns Hopkins Montgomery County campus. BioSciCon, which is supported  by their Global Academy for Women’s Health, is a start-up biotechnology company focused on research and development of  the MarkPap technology. MarkPap is a series of in vitro diagnostic devices and procedures used in cervical cancer screenings, which is biomarker-based, telemedicine empowered, affordable, accessible and infrastructure independent for detection of early lesions that could develop into cervical cancer.

The Markovics see the potential to use similar technology to diagnose oral cancer.

“Our experience with cervical cancer is giving us an opportunity to suggest another application: oral cancer,” Dr. Olivera Markovic said.

Their concept for oral cancer is in the research and development phase. Dr. Nenad Markovic said he hopes to see the technology patented within a year.

Oral cancer will strike an estimated 41,000 people this year and will kill nearly 8,000, according to the American Cancer Society. Yet oral cancer, if detected early, can be highly treatable.

The Markovics are working on what they describe as a simple, low-cost oral cancer screening methodology. They want their  technology to be affordable and accessible even in rural parts of the world.  They realize not everyone has access to quality medical institutions and doctors, so they want their technology to be simple enough for low-trained medical personnel in low-resource areas to use.

The Markovics also say that patients who do not have access to medical  institutions should be able to take an oral specimen at home and mail it to a doctor’s office for evaluation.

The Markovics are focusing their attention on India, which has one of the highest incidences of oral cancer in the world, due in part to the popularity of chewing tobacco with betel quid. Oral cancer represents approximately 2 percent  to 4 percent of cancer in western countries, but as many as 40 percent of male cancers  in some parts of India.

“We are trying to see how we can help that,” Dr. Olivera Markovic said.

The Markovics would like Johns Hopkins University to help them set up clinical trials in India.

Reflecting on that woman at the cemetery candle shop, Dr. Nenad Markovic said, “I just don’t want to see another similar situation.”

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